Facebook's new Portal smart speakers could be worthy challengers to Amazon's Echo

Facebook's new Portal smart speakers could be worthy challengers to Amazon's Echo

Facebook's new Portal smart speakers could be worthy challengers to Amazon's Echo

Still reeling from a security breach that affected up to 90 million users, Facebook has announced two new pieces of hardware created to make video chat easier and more immersive than ever.

Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls.

"It's been a big shift for the company", Facebook's vice president of consumer hardware Andrew Bosworth told AFP before the launch of "Portal".

Considering the popularity of Facebook Messenger, a smart display focused on video calls makes sense. The Portal comes with a 10-inch display that has 720P resolution.

Facebook Portal comes in two display sizes: Portal, which is 10 inches, and Portal Plus, which is a whopping 15 inches.

Both devices are available for preorder online in the United States through Facebook ($FB), Amazon ($AMZN), and Best Buy ($BBY). You get $100 off if you buy any two devices, and they'll ship at some point in November. Naturally, being an Alexa device it also has access to all of Amazon's AI tools. though it's not clear whether it'll have the same extras as the Echo Show.

The Portal also has a button on the top that cuts off its microphone and camera. Users can ask for things like weather forecasts, traffic updates, and sports scores, but it's unclear if all of Alexa's more than 50,000 skills are available on Portal devices.

Portal represents Facebook's first serious foray into selling consumer hardware outside of its virtual reality brand Oculus, which it acquired for $2 billion in 2014. The company also incorporated its Spark AR platform into each device so users can video chat with custom sound and visual effects (a Snapchat-esque feature dubbed Story Time).

All of the video chatting features you would find on Facebook are there, including group chat with multiple people, stickers, and effects.

Facebook uses AI in order to enhance the video and sound, these features are dubbed Smart Camera and Smart Sound. Facebook says that the smart cameras, although they lack facial recognition feature for now, will be able to follow users while video calls while they are "cooking in the kitchen or chasing the kids around the living room". Portal costs $199 and Portal+ is $349. It also doesn't have the best track record when it comes to keeping users' data safe.

However, to address potential security concerns about Portal (aside from the general rising distrust of Facebook), Facebook says the Portal's microphones and camera feature an option that will "physically" disconnect those components, and the company has installed an indicator light that glows red so you know they're off.

That means the Portal is in essence a smart display with less features than what you'd get from competing Alexa or Google Assistant-powered devices, that tries to make up for that gap with better face chat features. The company has revealed details about its Amazon Echo competitor, a voice-controlled, webcam-equipped smart screen named Portal. Facebook has partnered with Spotify Premium, Pandora, and iHeartRadio, as well as Facebook Watch, Food Network and Newsy with mode on the way.

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